Walking the Walk

“Just because you go to church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. I can go sit in the garage all day and it doesn’t make me a car.”  – Joyce Meyer

It’s finally here—the time when I get to put feet to my faith.

I think this is one of strangest days of a missionary’s life.  D Day.  The Day just before Departure.  Imagine being filled with sadness, excitement, joy, anticipation, uncertainty, and bewilderment all at the same time.  Now multiply that by a hatred for packing and a lack of sleep from anxiety.  Now multiply that times 10.  Perfect.  Now you can understand how I feel.

It’s been about four months since I came home from South Africa, and the time has flown.  I spent time catching up with old friends, hanging out with my awesome family, doing ministry in Canada, growing with the Lord, training for soccer, worshiping at my church, and strategizing for this coming year.  It’s been a jam-packed season filled with laughter, stress, tears, and lots of Chipotle burrito bowls.  I’m grateful for it all.

I don’t think there will ever be a time when I feel “perfectly equipped” or “ready” to serve God.  Because let’s face it, I’m a hot mess.  Thankfully, all of my equipping, preparing, molding, and shaping is being done by the Spirit of God who loves to make masterpieces out of mistakes and messy hearts.  All I had to do was answer God’s call for me to go.  Which sounded something like… “God, are you serious?  Because I’m kind of freaking out a little bit over here.  I really don’t think I’m qualified for this.  I barely know how to do my own laundry.  What about EBOLA?  I’m only 24.  But if You’re sure and if You promise to go with me… then I’ll go.”

It’s so easy to talk the talk.  Believe me, I did it for years.  It’s easy to sing worship songs played by a live band in a comfy air-conditioned building surrounded by familiar faces, praising God with one hand while you hold your Starbucks coffee in the other.  It’s easy to attend bible studies, to write blog posts, and to pray for people on your “nice list.”  It’s easy to say that you trust God for provision when you live in a safe neighborhood, when you have a steady income, and when there’s plenty of food in the fridge and a car in the driveway.

But I am going to get real with you guys, I don’t want easy.  I want dirty.  I want challenging, and on some days… I want dangerous.  I want to see God show up (partly because my faith grows weak at times and I need Him to show up, and partly because I love being blown away by God’s awesomeness).  I want to fail and fall so that I can grow and change.  I want to give generously, to speak boldly, and to love recklessly—no matter what the cost.  Because if Jesus could give up everything (including His life) to rescue and love someone like me, then I should be able to do the same for others.

And let me tell you this very second, I already know that there will be days when I regret writing the paragraph above this one.  (And you guys will probably hear about it, so brace yourselves.)  Yes, the Lord promises that those days of discouragement and trouble will come, but more importantly, the Lord promises that He will forever be faithful.  Any trouble or trials that I may face have already been conquered by Christ and nailed to the cross.

FullSizeRender.jpg

So tomorrow I leave to embark on a new adventure, and I want to ask you for prayer.  Prayers for open hearts and open doors.  Prayers for strength and courage.  Prayers for love and grace to flow out of my heart and into the lives of everyone I meet.  Prayers for dependency on the God who never fails nor abandons me.  Prayers for my family: that they will be comforted and at peace as I travel 7,000 miles away.  And lastly, prayers for the people of South Africa: for young girls to be set free from insecurities, fears, lies, and oppression—and for them to be strengthened and built up as princess warriors who are loved by the King of Kings.

Love you all.  Flight leaves tomorrow, Monday at 9:30 pm.  Let’s do this.

Junk in the Trunk: A Missionary’s Misconception

So I just read an awesome blog entitled, Things I Would Not Say to a New Missionary, and let me just tell you that the post was so wonderfully accurate.  I laughed so hard because I knew exactly what this lady was talking about.  Her post inspired me to get real about a few “missionary misconceptions” that I’ve struggled with in my own life.  As I have said so many times before, I am not a “cookie-cutter Christian,” nor am I a “cookie-cutter missionary.”  I don’t ever want to fit into a stereotypical Christianese box – it limits God and it limits me.  So, I realized that it might be time to demolish a few stereotypes and send some encouragement your way.

First things first, I need all of you to know that after one year of being a missionary… I still have no idea what the heck I am doing.  No, you think I’m joking, but I’m so serious.  This is a very important fact because before I became a missionary, I thought that I needed to have my perfect, holy, and blameless life together before I could go out into the world to serve God and others.  I was so wrong.  When I read back through God’s Word, I quickly discovered that not a single person God chose to use for His glory had their lives in order.  In fact, most of them screwed up before, during, and after they were called and sent out to serve and love God.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 that, “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.  God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.  As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.”

Is Sam foolish? Check. (Just ask my parents, I make dumb decisions all the time.)

Is Sam weak? Check.  (Especially when it comes to keeping my thought life clean.)

Is Sam unable to boast about how fantastically holy and perfect she is? Quadruple Check. (I am constantly in repentance mode like every five seconds.)

Well, now that we’ve established that…  I hope you feel more qualified to do big things for God because as I’ve discovered over the course of these past few years – my “success” as a missionary is not dependent on my abilities to maintain a perfect track record or get an entire country saved.  (Because honestly, sometimes I can’t even muster up the energy to take a shower or do my own laundry.)  My “success” is entirely dependent on God’s ability and His desire to use a broken vessel like me.  God only requires me to be available and to be willing to move my feet (and to perhaps open my mouth when the time is right).  If His light can shine brightly through my cracks and flaws, then I’m a happy camper.

I’ve had so many people tell me that I am an inspiration to them, and I think that’s a very beautiful thing.  But I really want to stress that I am no different than anyone else.  I am not more holy, more perfect, or more qualified.  Fun fact: Even while I was in South Africa, I sinned.  I know, I know, whip out the holy water and get your pointer finger of shame and judgment ready…

Just kidding about the holy water, but I wasn’t kidding about my sin.  I have never done this “missionary” thing before.  I am learning every single day what it looks like and feels like and sounds like to be a follower of Jesus.  I love Him with my whole entire heart, and I need Him desperately every single day, but that doesn’t mean that my life will be a perfect one.  However, it does mean that it will have to be a dependent one.  That was a huge and humbling lesson that God needed to teach me while I was in South Africa last year.

The standards that I had for myself were “Jesus Standards of Perfection.”  Which, incase you didn’t know… are unreachable standards.  I didn’t cut myself any slack and I really struggled with my own guilt and unforgiveness because I was so fearful of letting everyone down: God, my family, my church, my friends, and anyone else that knew about my journey.  I had to learn that God loved me before I even knew who He was.  He called me to go and love the girls who were (and still are) fighting against the same struggles that I’ve had to fight against, because they need to know what it feels like to be loved and forgiven – just like I needed to know what it feels like to be loved and forgiven.

I have a bad habit of making some of my sins appear worse than others on my “God Scale of Wrath.” I seriously need to throw that thing away, because it’s totally unbiblical and unbalanced.  For example, I’ll pray for a long time about my lustful thinking and how I need to stop cursing in front of my little brother when I drive in Miami’s ridiculous traffic, but I won’t spend much time praying about my pride or my jealousy towards another girl.  In God’s eyes, it all separates me from Him and it’s all equally wrong.  So when I feel like a failure for one “seemingly big” sin in my life, God looks down at me with compassion and says, “Sam, crazy girl, if you think that’s bad, wait until I show you the rest of the junk that’s hiding in your heart.  There’s stuff deep down in there that you don’t even know about yet.”  YOH.  Ouch.  But it’s a holy and purifying ouch, so I dig it.  Because just after the rebuke, comes God’s reminder that I shouldn’t feel shame or guilt or resentment – but instead, I need to remember that He has already nailed all of my sins to the cross.  They are dealt with, it is finished.  He already knew about all of the mistakes I was going to make, and He sent me and called me to be a warrior in His army anyways.  His patience and love and grace know no bounds.  If I am willing to bring Him all of my “junk” and lay it down at His feet, then He will always be willing to deal with it for me.  Without condemnation. Without hate.  Without disdain.

In fact, I think God gave me this job of serving His people because of all of my junk.  I had to walk through some crappy and embarrassing and hurtful things in my life, and those things have given me a heart that is so full of compassion and love and understanding.  When I see someone else struggling through what I experienced, I can look them in the eyes and genuinely sympathize because I’ve been there.  That’s a gift.  Because of my junk-filled past, I get to share a hope-filled future with the people I meet all over the world.  All a missionary really is – is a person who loves Jesus that decides to walk out of their front door and into the world with faith instead of being bound up in fear.  It’s that simple.  I may be living the Christian life in South Africa, but that doesn’t make being a missionary in your backyard any less significant.  All lives matter, everyone deserves the opportunity to receive love and hope through our actions and our words.  Compassion is contagious. (It’s scientifically proven. Don’t worry, I checked.)

So this blog is just a little reminder that we are all equally imperfect, but we are also all equally valuable and useful to God (in the little things and in the big things).  The purpose and the power remain with Him, but the choice to step up and walk in faith remains with us.  So don’t fear failure, instead, have faith.  And if (and when) you make mistakes, run back to God and let Him cover you in His grace.

11143104_10204812551329473_8823503763300333304_n.jpg

To Sin Less or to Be Sinless: That Is the Question

Sometimes, I get so tired of being a Christian.  Literally, I get exhausted to the point of needing multiple power naps a day.

This week I finally decided to sit down and ask myself, “Why the heck do I feel this way?”  If the Christian life is supposed to bring freedom and abundant joy, then why do I constantly feel worn out and enslaved?

I finally got the answer.

For so long, I believed that being a Christian meant that it was my duty to “sin less.”  I don’t know if anyone else has tried that, but for me, “sinning less” is absolutely draining.  It usually lasts about 5 whole seconds from the moment I wake up, and then it’s all downhill from there.  Heck, I’m pretty sure I even sin in my sleep.

But here’s what I learned (and this may sound radical so bear with me).  Jesus never ever asked me to “sin less.”  He asked me not to sin at all.  Jesus never demanded progress, He demanded perfection.  After Jesus taught the famous beatitudes, He said in Matthew 5:20, “But I warn you — unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Oh, snap.  If my salvation is dependent on my level of perfection and my good works, then I am in big trouble.  (Houston, we have a serious problem.)  I can tell you right now that, even as a missionary who’s walked with the Lord for just over 8 years, I do NOT measure up.  I will fail the test of righteousness every single time, and that’s a promise.  So if Jesus demands perfection, (and if I am an imperfect person) then how is the Gospel “good news?”

Here’s where I got my answer.

In Matthew 5, Jesus was preaching to the Jewish people.  He knew His audience from the inside out.  He knew their thoughts, their hidden agendas, their traditions, and their mindset.  Jesus knew exactly what He was teaching, and it must have sounded insane to those with listening ears.  The Pharisees were some of the most legalistic, religious, and obedient people alive in that day and age.  Jesus knew that no one could be as righteous as them in terms of lifestyle.  They set the tone for perfection.  The Jewish Pharisees were only concerned with the external appearance of their actions, but Jesus wasn’t stupid.  It is written in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord doesn’t see the things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” 

Jesus was making a point.  He saw what was hidden in their hearts.

Their obedience to the law wasn’t good enough.  They still fell short because their hearts were impure; every good thing they did was tainted with nasty sin.  But before I get prideful and start judging those guys for being so ridiculous, Paul makes it very clear in the book of Romans that we all fall short of the glory of God too.  In Galatians 2:21, Paul says, “I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless.  For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.”

Halle-flippin-lujah.  There’s hope!

Then it hit me (like an overly pumped up soccer ball to the face).  I realized why I had been so tired.  I was trying to live in perfect obedience to a law that I was never required to keep.  The law condemns me every time I try to live up to it.  All it does is reveal how sinful I am.  I was trying to work harder, seem wiser, look purer, be better… and sin less.

When Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished,” and Jesus always means what He says!  If He says is it finished, then it’s actually finished!  It’s done.  I like to think of it this way:  Imagine me walking up to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and finger-painting smiley faces all over it.  Then imagine me looking him straight in the eye and saying, “Check this out Leo!  Doesn’t your painting look so much better now?  Talk about a masterpiece!  Those smiley faces are flawless!”  I could’ve just as easily slapped him in the face.  (And I do the same thing to God every day when I try to add to the finished work of the cross.)

IMG_6656

Does that mean that my salvation is a “get out of jail free card?”  No, God is (and will always be) a representation of perfect justice.  Someone had to pay the price for my disobedience and my unrighteousness; a debt was still owed.  Jesus took the punishment that I deserved by living a perfect life that I couldn’t live.  He fulfilled the law that I could never fulfill (Romans 3:23).  He nailed my sins to the cross (Colossians 2:14) and died a terrible and shameful death in my place (2 Corinthians 5:21).  He loved me enough to meet my unreachable requirements of perfection, knowing ahead of time that it would cost Him everything.  This is the Gospel.  This is good news.  This is love.

Let me share one last thing that convicted me this week about the character of God.  The man on the cross next to Jesus in Luke 23: he didn’t have a holy resumé to hand over to Jesus, he didn’t try and convince Jesus that he was good enough to enter heaven, and Jesus never gave Him a penance requirement before he died.  The man’s belief was enough.  The man recognized his sin and his need for a Savior, he acknowledged Jesus as his only hope, and he called out to the Lord in faith.  And Jesus saved him.  That is grace.

Just like the criminal on the cross, I was justified (undeservingly), and now I am being sanctified.  The good works that I do now are not what make me righteous before God.  Instead, those good works are responses to the love and mercy and grace that I have received from Him.  They aren’t the means of my salvation, they are the outflow of it.  God loved me while I was a mess.  He saved me when I had nothing to offer Him, and that’s what makes grace so amazing.  C.S. Lewis said it this way, “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

IMG_6397

So now, instead of wasting my time trying to “sin less,” God calls me to believe that I am sinless.  And instead of growing tired and worn out from failing to measure up, God calls me to rest in the fact that Jesus measured up for me.  I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Steve Brown:

“The good news is that Christ frees us from the need to obnoxiously focus on our goodness, our commitment, and our correctness. Religion has made us obsessive almost beyond endurance. Jesus invited us to a dance… and we’ve turned it into a march of soldiers, always checking to see if we’re doing it right and are in step and in line with the other soldiers. We know a dance would be more fun, but we believe we must go through hell to get to heaven, so we keep marching.” 

IMG_6743

Most Definitely Quite Possibly

I can’t keep track of the number of times I’ve heard (or said) the phrase “God opens and closes doors,” but last night the Lord challenged me with a question that rattled my brain a bit:

Why do I limit Him to the confines of a house?

I have kept God in a metaphorical “one bedroom flat” my entire life.  The flat has two doors and one small window incase of emergencies, and it has limited His power and His ability to work in my life for years.  But, last night while I was lying in bed having a minor panic attack about how my money is running out and how my plans for the future keep getting screwed up, God told me to burn the metaphorical flat down.

So, I did.  I set a fire to my expectations, my fears, my worries, and my 5 year plan.  I set a fire to people pleasing, to following the crowd, and to stereotyping Christianity.  I set a fire to who I thought God was and to who I used to be.  Now, I stand out in the open – vulnerable to the world – ready to be used and lead by my Awesome Dad. There’s no turning back now.

It’s a really scary place to be, but when I look back through the bible at all of the other crazy people who decided to follow God in reckless abandonment, I am comforted by the fact that I’m not alone.  Abraham almost had to kill his only son after God promised him decedents that would number the stars, Gideon had to fight a battle against over 100,000 men with only 300 soldiers, and Paul was thrown in prison and beat up because of His hope in Jesus.  If they can move forward in faith, so can I.

I moved here 8 months ago, and within this past year God has turned my entire world upside down.  I came to coach soccer and impact the lives of little kids, but He had something much greater in mind.  I’ve worked with the training4changeS after school futsal program to keep kids off the streets and to equip them with life skills and a safe place to play and grow. I’ve partnered with STOP human trafficking South Africa to teach kids about love and purity along with the dangers of sex trafficking and prostitution. I’ve spent time in Drakenstein Prison building relationships, sharing the Word, and playing soccer with the boys from Ambassadors Football. Not to mention, I’ve been given the amazing privilege of playing the sport I love for a team that has become my second family.

Whew. Ok. Fast forward to today.

Well, a lot of things have changed.  Firstly, I am no longer coaching, and to be honest, I never saw that coming.  However, as more stepping stones are being lit up on my path, I’ve realized that the road looks a bit different than I thought it would.  But, it’s a road that is better than anything I could have imagined, and God knows the desires of my heart better than I do, so my only responsibilities are to be willing and available.

I am investing more and more of my time working with the youth, especially girls.  God keeps putting me in situations where He uses me to speak and teach about the things I struggle with most, and it is absolutely insane.  Purity is a huge area of weakness for me, yet He has me working and speaking at girls conferences and churches and schools about sex and love and lust.  Every time I speak, I know that He’s really the One doing the talking, and every time I feel accused and judged by the enemy for not being “good enough,” “pure enough,” or “holy enough,” I am reminded that Jesus loved me even in my darkest times.  His power is made perfect in my weakness, and His grace shines brightest in the darkest places of my heart.  And that’s enough to make me fall on my knees in worship.

I am going to be spending much more time working alongside STOP human trafficking who’s aim is to save girls who are being sold, abused, and used for sex.  I have been given the opportunity to write STOP’s blog posts and to speak in front of the hundreds of kids we reach out to when we present the Valuable to Jesus and the Traffic Proof Prevention programs to them.  Also, (and this is a HUGE also) I have been asked to join the STOP team on a week long trip to Uganda next March to help train up the army staff and their wives in human trafficking prevention.  We are also going to do an outreach to a refugee camp in the North of Uganda, and I may even get to teach the girls soccer!

To help equip me for this adventure, I am hoping to attend an International Human Trafficking Conference for Africa in October in Simon’s Town, SA.  It’s a three day long conference that will teach us about Illegal Migration, Human Smuggling, and Trafficking.  I am pretty pumped up about the opportunity!

The more steps I take forward while holding the Lord’s hand, the darker and riskier it gets.  But, the beautiful thing is that the tighter I grip my Fathers hand, the softer my heart gets.  I am led into places where most people would never dare venture, but I am comforted by the fact that I don’t go there alone.

Alright, now this is where one of my biggest steps of faith comes in.  I need your help.  As you guys know, I am here in South Africa on 100% donations.  I cant work because I am on a charity visa, so I need to be supported by my friends, family, and anyone else with a giving heart.  I am planning on coming back to South Africa in January to finish what God has started, so here are practical ways you can help:

  1. The International Human Trafficking Conference in October is 125$ for me to attend.  This will really equip me to fight human trafficking in a more efficient way.
  2. I don’t know exactly how much the Uganda trip will cost, but I do know that I will need to pay for food, accommodation, and travel. The estimation is about 10,000R. which is about $800.  I am totally trusting God with this one because it is going to be a dangerous trip, but the Lord promises to be my Protector and Provider so I’m going to walk by faith here!
  3. I plan on staying in South Africa for at least another year, so my monthly budget is about $2500 to cover rent, petrol, food, electricity/water, healthy insurance, phone bills, and ministry expenses/tithes.  Thank the LORD for the amazing exchange rate (10R = 1$).  I owe Him big time for that, haha!
  4. There is a girl here in South Africa who is a good friend of mine. She has a heart for God and for serving the girls as a football coach in South Africa.  She is an overcomer, but her dad lost his job, her brothers and sisters are addicted to drugs, she has a daughter who she can barely afford to keep in school, and she is trying to move out of her home because of the dangerous environment surrounding her with drugs/alcohol and violence.  I would love to be able to help sponsor her monthly because I know that she has so much potential to change lives, so if any of you feel the Lord nudging your heart to specifically support her, please let me know!

To donate: 

Visit   http://ssmfi.org/missionary/samantha-stokesberry/

Or send a check payable to Shepherd’s Staff by mail to: 

Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators 

6739 Academy Road NE, Suite 320 Albuquerque, 

NM 87109

(Put my account number #6020 in the memo section)

I never would have made it here if it wasn’t for you all.  I wouldn’t have had the courage to step out of my comfort zone and move across the world if it wasn’t for the constant love and support that I have received from my family and friends.  I am so grateful for the army of loved ones I have standing with me.  I want you to be blessed by what God has been doing, because without your financial support, none of it would have been possible.  I know that things are about to get hectic, so please keep me and the ministries (especially the STOP team) in prayer!  Even if you don’t have the means to support financially, prayer support is something that I will need even more!

I’ll end this letter with these honest words…

The plans I have for my life will most definitely quite possibly come to fruition, but even though I can’t and won’t put my faith in my own plans, I can and will put my faith in a God Who’s love will never fail, Who’s plans are for me to prosper, and Who’s never going to leave my side.

My Heavenly Dad gave me these verses to hold onto in tough and nerve-wracking situations, and I want share them with you.  Hopefully they will encourage you as much as they have encouraged me:

“I have called you back from the ends of the earth, saying, ‘You are my servant.’ For I have chosen you and will not throw you away. Don’t be afraid, because I’m with you; don’t be anxious, because I am your God. I keep on strengthening you; I’m truly helping you. I’m surely upholding you with my victorious right hand.” 

-Isaiah 41:9-10

Love you all.

Sam